Thursday, January 28, 2021

Reserved Seating Goes All Pacino: STAND UP GUYS

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who go to the same diner three times in 12 hours.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: This week, our Al Pacino series continues with his 2012 comedy/drama Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin and directed by Fisher Stevens. Stand Up Guys tells the story of a gangster named Val (Pacino) who is just released from prison after serving nearly 20 years. Picking up Val from jail is Doc (Walken), Val’s best friend, who wants to take Val out for a night on the town but is also under orders from his boss (Mark Margolis) to carry out a hit on Val by morning. It’s basically the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance sequence from The Irishman but played more for laughs and less for pathos. During their one crazy night, Val and Doc go to eat at the same restaurant over and over as well as visit the same brothel over and over. Along the way, Val and Doc break into several stores to shoplift and rescue their old getaway driver Hirsh (Arkin) from his nursing home to go out partying with them.

Rob: Sorry, but were you thinking “Val Pacino” the whole time, too? Like his stunt double cousin, or something? Anyway, carry on.

Adam: Haha, I am now. Context is key with Stand Up Guys. My reaction to this movie could have gone either way. I might have been all-in for elder statesman/hammy Pacino like I am in Two for the Money or Danny Collins or his schtick could have been pretty obnoxious like it is in Misconduct or Righteous Kill. If we watched Stand Up Guys early in our All Pacino series and this wasn’t coming off of a run of bad 2010s Al movies we’ve watched recently, I might be kinder to it. It’s more entertaining than a lot of his later efforts, but Stand Up Guys is definitely not one of his better movies. I gotta be honest - I think I’m burnt out on Al right now. I need a sure thing next time out. I can’t see him be an old rascal again for at least four months.
What did you think of Stand Up Guys, Rob? Is it me or was Christopher Walken’s performance especially weird, even for him?

Rob: So, here’s the thing: I think Stand Up Guys is a really, really weird movie. It’s a hang out comedy, but it’s also a gangster drama. It’s a sweet, empathetic sunset-of-life story, but there’s also a sequence in which Pacino takes too many boner pills and ends up in the hospital. The three leads are all doing crusty old guy routines, but then there’s Addison Timlin lighting up the screen as Alex, Doc’s favorite waitress. It’s this insane set of contrasts that never quite strikes a solid tone, but I have to say that I kind of liked it.

Adam: She’s good in the movie. I thought she was going to be a thing back around the 2013 timeframe when she was in my beloved Love & Air Sex and stole the movie.

Rob: Maybe I liked Stand Up Guys because I’m such a huge fan of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. You mentioned The Irishman, and that comparison is apt, but I’m willing to bet screenwriter Noah Haidle has seen In Bruges more than a few times. Both films feature cynical lowlifes looking for spiritual redemption and having to accept the small comforts of an indifferent world. They both feature men in mourning who have to seek absolution without letting themselves be too vulnerable. They both try to humanize their leads without forgiving them for their misdeeds. I’m definitely making Stand Up Guys sound a lot deeper than it is — and In Bruges is still the far-superior film — but I think that echo helped me appreciate what this one is trying to do.
I agree, though, that we need a break from Old Al. We got aggressive with that a few months back because we felt we’d been plucking from his early catalog a little too often, but now I feel like we’ve leaned too far in the other direction.

Adam: I was making a concerted effort to close the Pacino series strong and not on something like The Son of No One.

Rob: I do like him and Walken together in Stand Up Guys, though. I liked their vibe. You can tell that Walken liked playing off of Al, that he was able to be loose without leaning on that eccentricity that he’s been playing up in mainstream comedies for the last decade. There’s a little heart in his weirdness, you know? Again, I want to be clear: This is not a great movie, and it’s probably not even a good one, but it hit me the way I needed to be hit.

I don’t know! Was there anything in Stand Up Guys that did stick out to you in a positive way?

Adam: Not especially, but I’m glad you liked the movie. It has a good, deep bench of supporting actors I’ve liked in other movies so every scene is populated with people I wasn’t unhappy to see. I guess I’ll point out a few negatives and we can wrap up. First, this is the weirdest organized crime outfit I’ve seen. It has about five people in it. There’s a decision made in the final moments of the movie that struck me as something rather obvious, especially since Pacino and Walken have had almost two decades to mull things over.

Rob: It’s weird, right? We assume that Mark Margolis’ “Claphands” (What a name for a mob boss!) has some kind of omniscience over local crime, as if there’s nowhere Pacino can go that he won’t follow. And then it’s like, “Bill Burr is my Luca Brasi.” Not exactly the John Wick-verse, you know?

Adam: I wasn’t crazy about how the women were portrayed in the movie. Either they’re angels (Timlin) or sex workers (Lucy Punch and Katheryn Winnick) or abused (Vanessa Ferlito) or sexually harassed (the women in the bar). Lastly, this is a movie in what became a cycle of the “old guys who still got it” sub-genre of movies that was prevalent last decade and I’m always surprised that despite these movies gathering veteran pro actors who know better, they’re always trying to appeal to a low common denominator. It’s a weird vanity game where we’re supposed to be impressed -- to use Stand Up Guys for example -- that Alan Arkin is so good at threesomes that he made the sex workers fall madly in love with him afterwards.
Rob: At first, all the stuff in Wendy’s (Lucy Punch) brothel was hitting me the same way: Why do we need to do this Apatow Man Child stuff? But they kept going back to it so often that I started to feel like the filmmakers were in on the absurdity and using the whole sexual ferocity trope to illustrate how empty and pathetic these guys have become. I don’t disagree with you, though. It’s one of the things that makes the movie so hard to get a hold of.

Adam: Sorry for being a drag. This one just wasn’t for me and I’m clearly hitting a wall with 21st century Pacino right now. Take me to a meeting -- Al Pacino’s Anonymous.

Rob: You’re not a drag! They can’t all be winners. You know what will be, though? Our new special series that starts next week. I won’t reveal the topic just yet, but I’ll give one hint: It’s all about the Family.

Adam: Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

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